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Thursday 17 October 2019

A very Luke-y escape as Blues No 9 out for six weeks

Connacht's Blade in line for Ireland call-up as McGrath loses six weeks to knee injury

Luke McGrath of Leinster kicks down field during the Heineken Champions Cup match against Toulouse at the RDS. Pic: Sportsfile
Luke McGrath of Leinster kicks down field during the Heineken Champions Cup match against Toulouse at the RDS. Pic: Sportsfile

Luke McGrath has had a lucky escape.

There was genuine fear, almost expectation, that the Leinster scrum-half's was staring at the pospect of losing the rest of his season to a nasty looking injury on Saturday.

It turns out McGrath could be back as quickly as six weeks from a sprain to his medial collateral ligament (MCL).

It may not feel like a positive for McGrath right now, on the eve of Joe Schmidt announcing Ireland's squad for the Six Nations.

Ireland's third-choice scrum-half, based on recent selections, is Leinster's main man.

Rightly, there has been a focus on Ireland's cause now that McGrath will miss out on the Six Nations.

However, the Champions Cup stands there as a target to be met in the spring.

The news of McGrath's misfortune comes hot on the heels of Kieran Marmion's current exclusion due to ankle surgery.

persuaded

Back in November, it was revealed how Marmion would be out for three months when he was persuaded to go under the knife in order to solve an issue around an ongoing problem.

Projecting forward, this would have Marmion returning to play around the middle-to-latter part of February, smack bang in the middle of the Six Nations.

The latest update is that he took his first tentative steps at Connacht training last week.

It is something of a stretch to envisage Marmion being ready for England on Saturday fortnight and even Scotland seven days later, on February 9.

McGrath must have been confident of backing up Conor Murray for the start of the Six Nations.

He has to temper that deep disappointment with coming to terms with how lucky he has been to avoid a season-ending tear that could also have shredded his goal to make the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The news of John Cooney's late withdrawal from Ulster's most important match of the season on Saturday was another blow for Ireland.

The Dubliner was omitted due to a back problem which had been managed to that point.

Should Cooney fail to fully prosper from medical treatment, there will be a gaping hole in Joe Schmidt's Six Nations squad.

There is strong speculation that Caolan Blade will get the nod to join the Ireland set-up.

The 24-year-old has embraced the challenge as Connacht's mainstay in recent months.

More immediately, Leinster could consider applying for a 'medical joker' in light of their diminishing reserves at the position.

They have already been compromised by the 'Cotonou Agreement,' which rules Jamison Gibson-Park as a 'non-European' player.

The Blues are limited to listing just two players from New Zealand and/or Australia in a match day squad.

Automatically, Gibson-Park will step in to start against Wasps in the final round of the Champions Cup at the Ricoh Arena on Sunday (KO3.15, BT Sport 3).

Leinster are one more blow away from having no senior scrum-half available for selection.

McGrath will not see action for the foreseeable future and Nick McCarthy is nowhere near ready.

The man committed to moving to Munster at the end of the season, has been, in the words of Leo Cullen last Friday, "slower to recover" from a broken bone in his foot.

Apparently, it could be March, even April, before McCarthy is ready to resume.

As it stands, Hugh O'Sullivan is already registered for European action and will provide back-up from the bench to Gibson-Park.

The Year Two Academy half-back is just two years into making the transition from full-back at Belvedere to half-back at Leinster.

From the moment McCarthy let Leinster know of his decision to leave, Leo Cullen has been inclined to go with O'Sullivan, even earning vital minutes in the Interprovincials against Munster at Thomond Park and Ulster at The RDS.

Still, the 20-year-old has made just six appearances at senior level, all from the bench, for a grand total of 89 minutes.

There is no guarantee McGrath's road back to fitness will go to plan. This could leave Leinster open to vulnerability when the play-offs come around.

They could well apply to the IRFU for leave to make a short-term signing.

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